Iowa’s flooding connects to climate change and land use


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Iowa’s waterways are vulnerable to flooding due to climate change and developing landscapes (Billwhittaker/Wikipedia)

Katelyn Weisbrod | August 10, 2018

Climate change is manifesting itself in Iowa, most clearly in the form of rainfall and flooding.

Around 80 Des Moines residents have been left homeless by this summer’s floods. These residents are classified as “climate refugees” — people displaced by a climatic event — according to the Des Moines Register.

Thousands of homes were impacted by the June deluge in central Iowa, but these extreme rain events are becoming more common. Six of Iowa’s eight wettest years on record have been in the last 36 years, and flooding has cost businesses and farmers $18 million since 1988. Increased rainfall is connected to climate change, experts say, because the Gulf of Mexico is warming, leading to an increased volume of water carried through the atmosphere to the Midwest.

Flooding is not only exacerbated by climate change, but by the way Iowans are using their land. As cities become more and more developed, imposing sprawling buildings and asphalt parking lots on once-permeable prairie land, storm water rushes to rivers and streams much more rapidly. In fact, five inches of rain falling on a prairie landscape can have the same damage as just three inches of rain falling onto a highly developed landscape, the Register reported.

On the municipal and state level, changes are being considered to help reduce the impact of intense rain events, like increasing storm sewer capacities, creating reservoirs and dams, and restoring oxbows and wetlands. On the individual level, anyone can help reduce stormwater runoff into Iowa’s waterways by creating rain gardens and constructing rain barrels to store the water until the storm has passed.

Dead zone in Gulf of Mexico smaller this year than expected


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The dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico was measured at nearly half its expected size this summer (NOAA)

Katelyn Weisbrod | August 9, 2018

Scientists found the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico is smaller this year than in years past.

The zone of water lacking sufficient oxygen to support aquatic life at the end of the Mississippi River measured just over 2,700 square miles — about the size of the state of Delaware and the fourth-smallest the zone has been measured since 1985.

Experts at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association expected the dead zone to be more than double this size this year. The lack of oxygen in the water is caused in part by algal blooms stimulated by nutrient runoff from farm fields in states like Iowa into the Mississippi River. Algae deplete dissolved oxygen in the water making survival nearly impossible for fish and other aquatic life.

A possible explanation given by Dr. Nancy Rabalais of Louisiana State University is that winds in the area may have mixed oxygenated water with the water lacking oxygen, reducing the zone’s size.

Scientists from Louisiana State University measure the zone’s reach annually, but the size can vary significantly throughout the year. In 2017, the zone was measured at its largest size ever recorded — over 8,700 square miles. These data help inform efforts like the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy about the progress of such initiatives to keep agricultural runoff and other nutrient loads from entering the Mississippi River.

2017 is the third warmest year on record


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The past three years have been the hottest on record. (NASA/flickr)

Eden DeWald | August 8th, 2017

According the the State of the Climate report, 2017 is the third warmest year on record. The annual State of the Climate report is published by the American Meteorological Society and is based on international data taken from land, air, and sea monitoring stations. 2016 still remains the warmest year on record, and 2015 comes in as the second warmest.

The data from 2017 also reveals that last year, atmospheric greenhouse gas levels were the highest ever recorded.  The average global carbon dioxide concentrations reached 405 parts per million. This far surpasses any carbon dioxide concentrations from previous climate data, as well as C02 concentrations found in ice cores from well over half a million years ago.

The report also contains information about continued sea level rise, ocean surface temperatures, coral bleaching, and declining polar ice cap coverage. To read the State of the Climate in 2017, or any of the past reports, click here.

Pollution and heart issues


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Studies show a distinct link between low pollution and health risks (/stock)

Natalia Welzenbach-Marcu | August 7th, 2017

A new report from the Queen Mary University in London links even low levels of pollution with heart and respiratory problems. Pollution, even in its lowest quantity, is sometimes linked to an increased risk of diabetes.

Dr. Nay Aung, an affiliate of Queen Mary, revealed some information from the study that linked people living near busy streets with an increased risk of enlarged heart ventricles.

This is not the first time that pollution has been linked to distinct health risks, either.

The World Health Organization published an updated statistic in 2018: a staggering 80% of the global urban population is exposed to higher levels of pollution than is deemed safe by the WHO. Most of those affected live in lower-income areas.

 

 

 

On the Radio- The coral of the future


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Coral reefs are being destroyed due to coral bleaching (USFWS/flickr)

Eden DeWald | August 6, 2018

This week’s segment explores efforts in Hawaii to grow corals resistant to bleaching.

Transcript:

Scientists are attempting to speed up evolution in an effort to save coral reefs.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

Biologists at Gates Coral Lab at the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology are working on a way to cross-breed coral species that have resisted coral bleaching or persisted in spite of it. Coral bleaching, a phenomenon that has been slowly killing reefs for years, occurs when corals are stressed by environmental factors, such as pollution or extreme temperature changes.

The Biologists at Hawaii’s Coral Lab are trying to cross-breed resistant species of coral to create something like a super-coral—a variety of coral that can withstand these environmental stressors. This plan is sometimes referred to as assisted evolution, when scientists help speed up the process of evolution to yield stronger varieties of creatures.

Dr. Ruth Gates, director at the Hawaii Institute, isn’t sure if coral reefs would survive past 2050 without some assistance.

For more information, visit Iowa Environmental Focus dot org.

From the UI Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research, I’m Sara E. Mason.

Trump Administration proposes reduced fuel-efficiency standards


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The Trump Administration plans to reform fuel-efficiency standards for new cars. (Robert Jack/Wikipedia)

Katelyn Weisbrod | August 3, 2018

The Trump Administration has proposed to freeze fuel-economy standards for new vehicles produced in the United States beginning in 2020.

This would reverse the Obama Administration’s regulation which requires auto manufacturers to build vehicles with an average of 51 miles to the gallon by 2025. Under the proposal, the target would be 37 miles to the gallon.

Supporters of the proposal say reducing the standard would save consumers money by reducing the cost of cars without the fuel-saving technology. It also could encourage people to upgrade if they are driving old, unsafe cars to avoid buying an expensive, efficient vehicle.

Critics, however, say the proposal disregards the savings to consumers by spending less on gasoline. There is also the larger cost of burning more fossil fuels and emitting more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, further accelerating the effects of climate change.

California governor forewarns of increasing likelihood of wildfires


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At least 16 wildfires are burning through California, displacing thousands of residents. (U.S. Department of Agriculture/Wikipedia)

Katelyn Weisbrod | August 2, 2018

Gov. Jerry Brown of California warned that the 16 wildfires that have burned 320,000 acres of his state’s land and displaced 32,000 people will become more common and severe as the effects of climate change begin to take hold.

At least 13,000 firefighters are battling the blazes in the 100-plus degree heat, dealing with hard-to-predict winds fueling the fires.

In a news conference Wednesday, the Los Angeles Times reported, Brown said the state would spend as much money as needed to contain the blaze, but as wildfires continue to plague California in the coming years, finding the resources to deal with the destruction will become difficult.

Since July 1, the state has spent $115 million — about one-fourth of it’s annual allocation for fire emergencies.

“People are doing everything they can, but nature is very powerful and we’re not on the side of nature,” Brown said. “We’re fighting nature with the amount of material we’re putting in the environment, and that material traps heat. And the heat fosters fires.”